This time without below-zero temperatures and, barring the Friday night gale force storm (that I wasn't there for thanks to M6 closures and not wanting to put a tent up in the dark), with plenty of sunshine. So much sunshine, in fact, that I was pink as a lobster by Saturday lunchtime and remained that way for the rest of the event.
Empire's second event over the Spring bank holiday had such an effect on me, that I spent the entire Tuesday evening on Facebook gushing over how good it was, adding new friends and generally planning for the next one. The technical terms for that are 'froth' (as a verb) and 'keen' (as a noun).
In fact, just look at the picture: do you think I enjoyed it? That's serious-face. Game-face. Wave that spear at me once more and I'll disembowel you-face.
With plenty of faces now familiar to me, and me to them, the atmosphere felt even more friendly than the first event. Absolutely everything was improved, from costumes and characters to toilets/showers, political organisation and national identities. Of course, the weather and knowing largely who everyone else was really helped the flow of interaction (and not having to introduce ourselves every 5 minutes to people we probably should know already).
I managed to get out and about a little more this time, visiting the nations of the League, Wintermark and the Brass Coast along the way for more interaction, more contacts and more enjoyment.
Though there wasn't the massive Empress Plot handed down from above like there was at the first event, this one had far more player-driven interactions (or, rather, I found more player-driven interactions).
The nation of Highguard continues to go from strength to strength - I can see from FB and blog posts that every player loves the one they're in, and I'm no different with the Highborn. As a unit we have an amazing look of togetherness, as each Chapter has their own take on the brief and executed it brilliantly. From the Cenotaph, Silent Tide and Adina's Charge in blue and white, to Cantiarch's Hold and their distinctive white and red, to Felix's Watch, Suns of Couros and Shattered Tower all going for black and a trim colour; it's obvious when you're in Highguard.
Our military goes from strength to strength, with disciplined lines of shield walls complemented by scouts and archers that seem to be feared by everyone who faces them. Even better, though, is that everyone I've met is awesome.
My favourite moments of the weekend (more than a few):
The Monday SkirmishA smaller battle with just Highguard and the League taking part, this was a question of national character. The Highborn went through the portal to the battlefield first, double-time and formed up as a shield wall which advanced, on command, 20 paces at a time. The League sauntered in afterwards to a tune from their accordion player. This accordion player kept up his tunes throughout the battle; even when yelled at to shut up because he was giving the position away, he simply started playing quiet, sneaking music. Classic. I also got to assist one of our injured Generals off the battlefield, which was a cool moment as she limped and screamed in agony having the leg wound treated - very immersive.
Marching off to the Summoning Stones past midnight to thwart the appearance of an Autumn Eternal
Just as I was considering retiring to bed, the call went up around Highguard to arm and around a dozen of us marched to the Summoning Stones. Arranged by Cassiel of Cantiarch's Hold, we formed a close order shield wall and advanced on the crowd. They noticed us, turned around, and someone yelled "Bloody hell, what's going on?!" in amazement, shock and a bit of awe. The answer was, of course, that the Highborn had arrived. Although, to quote Gandalf, 'swords are of no use here', it also made a nice statement.
Grave Goods for the body of Empress Britta
Carrying over from what I was involved with at Event 1, The young Empress' body was to be dumped in the marsh with weapons 'n' shit because that's how they do things in Wintermark. They asked every nation to give a gift, but Highguard chapters all contributed. I gave the bell I'd rung at her funeral, for instance, Senator Adamah gave a shield, etc. Then one guy from Adina's Charge ran over and handed over first a bell and then, wait for it, a horseshoe. Bear in mind that horses have been extinct in this setting for 300 years, and this becomes a relic of awesomeness and cue a sharp intake of breath. Even better than that, though, is that the Wintermark guy receiving it played it wonderfully, questioning what the item was because he didn't recognise it. Perfect!
Brother Lazarus' Roleplaying Effect
So what if it was midnight and we were sitting in Cantiarch's Hold drinking rum, our favourite Priest of Courage (indeed, the Empire's favourite as he is the Cardinal) Lazarus (Tom) was getting back from something exciting. His muscles ached from his mail he'd been wearing all day. The lights were dim in the tent, he said, though considering how bright it had been in the Senate, that was appropriate. Then, suddenly, he was bouncing around like nothing was wrong. Which made us think that something was wrong. So, they tied him to a chair and performed an Insight on him, revealing that he was fine at that point, but had been under a minor curse earlier. That's the thing with Lazarus, you never can tell with him. Awesome.
One-on-One Battling with an Imperial Orc and a Barbarian Orc
As I'd not LARPed before Empire, LARP fighting is something I've never done before. In the first event I tried to learn a bit from Armsmaster Corbin (Gaz) at the Academy of Arms and this has really helped me do things properly, as well as being a lot safer. So this time I was determined to put some to the test. First I end up being 'invited' into the Orc fighting pit by none other than Grelka, Conscience of the Senate (Steph). This was an awesome duel, with heckles and encouragements from the sidelines that I only vaguely heard, but appreciated nonetheless. After nearly decapitating her with a swing that would have hit anyone else in the arm/shoulder (she's kinda short and I'm kinda tall, after all, so I stopped a moment to make sure she was OK, but she just charged hell for leather at me anyway), Grelka soon bounced off my shield to the floor and I had won. Admittedly I was wearing plate versus leather but it was a great spectacle and I the Orcs seemed to give me a bit of respect for being so mobile whilst wearing a tank. The second fight was in the Sunday battle, and after an hour of Orcs fighting away from the Highguard shield wall, I'd had enough. With one orc trying to distract us and make a nuisance of himself, I broke the line and strode out. He was, as I said at the time "fucking 'aving it!". Pushing his two-handed spear aside with my shield, I called a magically-infused CLEAVE to make his left arm hang limply at his side and quickly cut him down. Boom, in under five seconds he was dying on the floor and I'd won my first true one-on-one combat. Jacob is officially a badass and was only slightly told off by his line commander, Cassiel, for breaking the shield wall. "If you'd lost I wasn't going to come save you." Perfect.
Looking at those half-dozen moments that I enjoyed the most, the thing that stands out is the immersion. In those moments I wasn't Simon pretending to be Jacob, I was simply Jacob. Totally in-character and actually appreciating the magnitude of the moments afterwards, rather than at the time. The surroundings, background, costumes, manner of speaking and, above all, the other players make Empire a brilliantly fun game.
Moments may make the game, but other people make those moments. Fingers crossed I make those moments for others, too.